The reaction in Iraq to the US demands for the long-term use of military bases and other rights has been so furious that Washington is now offering limited concessions in the negotiations George Bush is willing to modify some of the demands so the Iraqi government can declare “a significant climbdown” by the American side allowing Baghdad to sign the treaty by July 31.
In practice, there is less to the American “concessions” than would first appear. For example, the US is lowering the number of bases it wants from 58 to “the low dozens” and says it is willing to compromise on legal immunity for foreign contractors according to information leaked to this reporter.
But the US currently only maintains about 30 large bases in Iraq, some the size of small cities; the rest are “forward operating bases”.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denied my report that the US wanted permanent bases in Iraq. But the reality of the US plan is that Iraqi authority would be purely nominal with a few Iraqi soldiers stationed outside the bases.
It will also be difficult for the US to concede that the tens of thousands of foreign contractors in Iraq, who vary from heavily armed security men to support staff, be liable to Iraqi law because the US Army has become dependent on these forces and could scarcely function without them.
The new deal between Iraq and the US is in theory a “status of forces agreement”, which the US already has with more than 80 other countries, but, in practice, it is a manoeuver by the US administration to avoid calling the agreement a treaty which, under US law, would then have to be submitted to the Senate. With American politicians wholly absorbed in the presidential election there appears to be only limited interest by congressmen and senators in demanding that the agreement, when signed, be submitted to them.
The fate of the new agreement may depend on the attitude of Iran, which has denounced it fiercely, claiming it would permanently enslave Iraq and turn it into an American client state. Senior Iraqi politicians denouncing the deal include members of the main government party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), such as Jalal al-Din al-Saghir.
“Is there sovereignty for Iraq – or isn’t there?” he was quoted as saying. “If it is left to them [the US], they would ask for immunity even for American dogs. Other Iraqi politicians have questioned the continuation of the American occupation in any form.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, promised Iranian leaders during his visit to Tehran last weekend that Iraqi territory would not be used as an American platform for a military attack on Iran. It is noticeable that the Iraqi politicians within ISCI most vehement in opposing the deal are close to the Badr militia wing of ISCI that has traditionally had close links to Iran.
PATRICK COCKBURN is the the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.”